Entrepreneur, business owner, writer, or whatever professional you happen to be, if you have a web presence, you will need to include a few words on who you are. This might be something short to be used on a social media site, or something longer to appear on the About Me page on a website or blog. Possibly all of them at once. Regardless of what, where, or how long, including anything personal on the web invites opportunity for cyber crime in the form of identity theft or spear phishing schemes.
Yet despite the danger, you still need to convince people that you are the best, most qualified person to do business with. This presents a problem. Here are some easy steps you can take to construct and effective About Me page while maintaining control over your identity.
What if I’ve been around a long time and my information is already out there?
Don’t give up. There are ways you can regain control over your personal information, but it takes some effort. Even if you think you are completely new to the Internet, you should take some time to search for yourself. Start with Bing or Google and force yourself to look at multiple pages of results.
Hunt for yourself on PeopleFinder.com and other online directories. Many online directories pull their information from local publicly available records such as real estate, business listings, background checks, and phone directories.
Search Ancestry.com to see what your living relatives have put up about you.
Scour Facebook and LinkedIn, even if you have to create an account to look. Your friends and family may have already been posting things about you.
Look at any organization to which you belong and see what they have posted about their members.
Don’t forget to look for images either. Check Google Images, Flickr, Pinterest, and other image holding places where your friends or enemies may have posted something on you.
Now that I know what’s in the wild, what do I do about it?
Don’t panic. Once you have compiled a list of what is already available online, think like a criminal for a moment and see if, when combined, you can use that information to obtain a credit card or achieve an effective impersonation. Is any of it embarrassing? Make some hard decisions on what you want taken down and how possible it would be to get it removed. As much as we may not like having our home addresses available world-wide at the touch of a key, there are too many public records containing that information for us to effectively control it all.
If there is a photo or a record on the web that you don’t want to be there, contact the site owner or the person who posted it and request that it be removed. This will have varying levels of effectiveness depending on the site. You can request to be removed and they are supposed to honor that request. In some cases my may have to seek legal recourse, but be prepared to spend a lot of money if you feel the need to go that route.
In the mean time, you have the opportunity to use one of the most fleeting aspects of the Internet to your advantage. That is the ability to flood out undesirable information with a deluge of fresh content. In essence, what you can’t root out, you bury.
What Do I Replace it With?
Ideally, as little as possible.
Your About Me page is not a memoir, a resume, or a life story. It will benefit from brevity. You only want exactly the right amount of information to make you look like a uniquely qualified human being.
Look again at what is already on the Internet and acceptable and re-use whatever is pertinent to form the base of your own, personal character sketch. Flesh out your character sketch using only information that is either already available, or can’t be combined with something already available to create a security breech.
If you’re writing a business bio—something that might appear on LinkedIn, on the company web page, or in Forbs Magazine—use language and examples that establish your reputation and qualifications as a professional. Your educational credentials are only relevant if they support your current activities or career goals. Otherwise, leave them out. For example, mentioning that you’re a dog-lover is only relevant for a vet.
If you’re an author, especially a fiction author or poet, finding credentials that are relevant yet not too personal can be a challenge. Published credits are always useful. Also list the genres you’re writing in and any current projects. It’s all right to mention any representation you may have as well. Like the business professional, your educational credentials should only be mentioned if they are relevant to your writing. If your writing centers around where you live, your current location or the location you grew up, rounded to the nearest city, may be appropriate. Any hobbies you enjoy and that are relevant to your writing or influence your writing may be included as well.
Memoirists be careful not to put too much personal information into your bio. You should only mention enough to interest a prospective reader in the memoir and to establish your credibility to write on the topic or event you’ve chosen to focus your memoir on.
Do not include any information about minors, either yours or someone else’s. Your spouse’s name should only be included if they are directly creditable to the project. Your place of residence should never be more specific than city and state. I strongly recommend leaving your home phone number off of any bios. An email address or a link to a contact page is sufficient. Do not mention the names of any of your pets, especially if you use those in your passwords.
Now go change your passwords.
Any biographical information about you that exists online can be used against you by a cyber criminal. Your task is to select which pieces of personal information provide the most value to you as a professional while providing the least value possible to a criminal.
- Aim to have as little personal information on the web as possible.
- Remove or reuse any information about you already on the web and think hard about what and how much you add to it.
- If you can’t get unwanted information about you removed, drown it out with appropriate information provided by yourself.
- Keep your bio short.
- Keep your bio relevant.
- Use the same information in all versions of your bio.